Bad times for the local news business

Whether it’s merely a reflection of the ailing economy, the rise of the Internet or the death knell of daily print journalism, newspapers nationwide are in a severe tailspin. Asheville’s local daily, the Asheville Citizen-Times, is among those feeling the heat.

Paper losses: The Asheville Citizen-Times recently announced that it’s laying off 16 people as part of a major work-force reduction by the Gannett Co. at papers nationwide.

Just last month, the Gannett-owned newspaper announced that it will lay off 60 people at its printing plant, moving the printing of its papers to Greenville, S.C., in January. Now comes word that the paper has laid off 16 more employees, from departments including online operations, circulation, advertising, production, graphic design and editorial.

One AC-T staff writer told Xpress, “I’m getting real nervous wondering whether I’m going to have a job.”

The latest round of cuts, according to the local blog Ashvegas, which is written by Xpress staffer Jason Sandford and keeps close tabs on local media, occurred Dec. 2. In a leaked e-mail that had been sent to staff from Publisher Randy Hammer, he pointed out that four of the 16 had volunteered to be let go.

“It is a very sad day and we are losing good friends and co-workers who have contributed a great deal to this company,” Hammer says in the brief e-mail. “Beginning tomorrow [Dec. 3] and continuing through the rest of this week, managers will hold a series of staff meetings to discuss the impact on their departments.”

While Ashvegas reports that morale is low at the paper, reporters and others still on the job have been reticent to talk on the record. By press time, neither Hammer nor Editor Phil Fernandez responded to e-mails from Xpress seeking comment on the current cuts or others that might occur.

Further layoffs aren’t out of the question. Citing “economic declines,” the latest Gannett newspaper job cuts will end up eliminating about 2,000 positions across all of the company’s 85 daily papers, except the Detroit Free Press and flagship USA Today, Tara Connell, the company’s vice president of corporate communications, recently told Editor & Publisher magazine.

The cutbacks, which will affect about 10 percent of jobs in the company’s Community Publishing Division, were announced in late October in a letter from Robert Dickey, president of the division, to publishers. Those cuts follow a previous downsizing of some 1,000 jobs in the same division in August.

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